Is it okay to boycott art because you find the artist’s beliefs distasteful?
I’m thinking out loud hear, so please bear with me. I’m not sure where this is heading, but I’d like to hear your opinion. I read an article in today’s NY Times about a boycott of the new Harrison Ford movie, Ender’s Game. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I need to talk about Seattle artist, Charles Krafft.
According to a Seattle Times newspaper story dated March 23, 2013, “Once celebrated by museums and collectors for his playful tweaking of Nazi iconography, renowned Seattle artist Charles Krafft has lately become the art world’s problem child.”
The conventional wisdom in the art world has been that Krafft’s art pokes fun at the Nazi regime (an emperor has no clothes sort of message). However, in recent interviews, Krafft has said that he is skeptical about the historical truth of the Holocaust. Now museums are struggling to decide whether or not it is acceptable to display Krafft’s work. What do you think?
Would it be different if the subject matter of Krafft’s work did not include Nazi iconography? What if Krafft painted ballerinas? Degas was an anti-Semite. Should we boycott the National Gallery of Art for displaying the paintings and sculpture of Degas?
Which brings me to Ender’s Game. The boycott is a reaction to opinions expressed by Orson Scott Card, the author of the novel on which the movie is based. Card is a Mormon, opposed to same-sex marriage. I disagree with Card’s view of homosexuality, but it seems a pretty big jump from that to boycotting a movie based on his book. I should probably mention that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are not a subject of the movie. According to the NY Times, “Glaad, a gay-rights organization that tracks media, reviewed the script and found nothing to criticize.” So the boycott is not a response to anything in the movie itself (or in the book) but rather to a belief held by the author.
My parents refused to buy a German car for half a century, following World War Two because of connections, real or perceived, between the German auto industry and the Nazi regime. Certainly, it is acceptable to refrain from making a purchase of any kind (whether the purchase is an automobile or a movie ticket) because you find the person/company objectionable. I get that. And I understand that when enough people refrain from making the purchase, it draws attention to an issue. In that respect, a boycott can be an effective tool for social change.
Nevertheless, I don’t think I can hold artists to a litmus test. I will not turn my back on Degas the next time I’m in the Princeton Art Museum. Neither will I change the channel the next time I come upon The Last Samurai just because Tom Cruise believes in Scientology.
There are plenty of valid reasons not to go see Ender’s Game. Is Orson Scott Card’s opinion on same-sex marriage one of them? I’m curious what you think.